Ever since the late 1800’s, Greensboro has steeped, one decade after another, richly with history in both textile and work apparel manufacturing. The story seemingly begins always with two famous brothers, the Cones for denim, Sternbergers for flannels, and Hudsons for overalls. Our story is different, in that we became brothers not by birth, but by fate. William Clayton and I met in 2012, and quickly began forging a strong friendship that would lead to business partnership. Over the course of the past three years, our lives have become more interwoven than I ever could have imagined. But, like these brothers aforementioned, we dream big.
In early 2014, we had the idea of combining his family business’ brick and mortar retail (Civic Threads) with my even smaller micro-shop retail (Gate City Dry Goods Co.), to create something bigger and better, but also something historic. Civic Threads operated out of Coe Grocery & Seed, which when located about five doors down the street 100 years earlier was the founding place of Hudson Overall Company, a name that was short-lived, changing to Blue Bell in 1919. With some historical investigative work, we found out our block, being the only berm on Elm Street in downtown, was nicknamed Hudson’s Hill, due to the 1890’s Hudson Bros. Grocery (no relation to the overall and work clothing magnates). Naturally, good things come in threes. William, my business partner’s middle name is a family name, Hudson. This precipitated our naming of the store Hudson’s Hill along with our securing the name and reestablishment of Hudson Overall Company.
Over the past year and a half, we have prided ourselves in selling Made in USA products, whilst assembling an array of machinery and equipment to begin the manufacturing of in-house items ourselves. The best part about this Made in USA movement is that you get to know the brand by personal relationships with owners, not just a sales representatives. Knowing who you’re buying from, knowing them as a person, and knowing what components go into their items matters just as much to us as any other aspect of conscious consumerism. This has allowed us to become connoisseurs of all things that we retail, but particularly things that are close to home: denim.
We have, over this same course of time, developed relationships with brands and artists alike to foster the creation of exclusive products, convey our ideas and have impact with design and new product development, and also to engage in consulting opportunities for brands. In fall of 2014, we manufactured our own in-house line of chore coats, denim popovers, hooded sweatshirts, and ventilated work shirts, while also offering an array of house brand leather accessories, bags, and other small wares.
Beginning in spring of 2015, we began putting together more items using denim after becoming more equipped for manufacturing ourselves in-house, and have been able to build an array of items using self-edge narrow goods all sourced from our city’s own Cone White Oak Plant, a division of ITG that is the oldest continuous producer of denim in the United States. Being just two miles from the factory is great, because we feel this helps us by supporting our neighbor, but also because our city still is home to so many individuals who dedicated their lives to weaving, spinning, sewing, and building this Goliath of a business. They come in time and time again sharing their stories with us and giving us constant inspiration. But we are also a block from the Blue Bell building where William’s family business operates, so we are indeed constantly surrounded by historical inspiration.
This fall, I recruited my best friend, who I was introduced to and have since grown closer to over the last three years, Elizabeth “Liz” Valashinas, who had recently decided to take a leap of faith and leave her post as a tailor for the Levi Strauss & Co. Lot #1 program at the flagship store in San Francisco, California, to pursue her dream of building her own brand, Mary James. She has been working in our store’s workshop using solely antique industrial machines (Union Special Machine Corp., Singer Manufacturing Corp., Merrow Corp.) to sew the garments, patterning on top of an 1890’s billiards table converted to cutting table at my house, and is even using antique loom gears from a WWII sample loom I own to hold down fabric and patterns in the process. These slow-made garments are even more special because of her consciousness about sourcing and material usage. They are Berry compliant, which means they have no component that isn’t domestically produced. They are constructed with only single needle machines, using only her two hands, and built using the highest quality USA-made buttons, thread, pocketing, rip-stop paneling for durability, and of course 12oz legendary Cone White Oak as the denim. In my honest opinion, Liz’s craftsmanship is what the Japanese call “monozukuri”, which doesn’t have a direct word translation to English but it means perfection and mastery of a skill. Her jeans are simply the best damn jeans I’ve ever seen or worn.
More recently we have brought in employees who bring other skills and niche abilities to our business, a leather craftsman who works at a shoe repair shop, a milliner who works to help us with marketing and website optimization while crafting product to sell in our space, as well as William’s sister, Chelsea Clayton, who is an incredible photographer. We have also hosted our friends to help us with modeling, photography, and videography. We like to think of ourselves as helping to preserve our city’s brain trust because we are giving it a place to be preserved.
While we do now make a plethora of in-house goods, we also guarantee them. This hearkens back to the bygone times as well. During the earlier days of workwear, companies would guarantee buttons and seams and fabric wouldn’t rip with money, or even better, host competitions to see how many men it took to rip a pair in half by the legs, tug-of-war style. We do this with our denim, guaranteeing it for life with few exceptions. We have the ability to darn, taper, replace, repair, reattach, and hem all of the denim bottoms we sell. We love the idea that we offer this because it allows us to have our customers revisit us and we get to see the way they have loved and lived in their jeans.
While we don’t know what the future holds for the growth of our company, we do anticipate that our endeavors have already accomplished one thing with those who follow us: Greensboro is and always will be the denim and workwear capital of the world. We hope to continue to support local artists, both in-house and as vendors; we will continue to build our armada of machinery, and continue to improve our ability to function as a social-scape and retail space. We also believe in the concept of leaving things behind better than they were found, and with our business that is certainly the case.
If you’re ever in Greensboro, come by and pay us a visit. You might even throw on a movie in our old VHS player and watch it on a console TV like the one from grandma’s house in yesteryear.
We are Hudson’s Hill, and we live with a passion for purpose.